My Travel Blog

The Not-So-Calm Before The Storm

The big day finally arrived.  It’s time to move Rabelo, but our captain was not on the train he was supposed to be on.  It’s not that Wilco, Scott and I can’t move my big baby.  It’s just that none of us posses the proper license.  Scott just told me that Wilco called.  He’ll wait for the next train.  If Jan, our captain is not aboard we will leave without him.  Without a properly licensed captain Rabelo will be uninsured.

I’m not happy at this point…

A taxi is pulling up next to us.  Wilco jumps out and there is Captain Jan.  He looks every bit the part, balding with a grey beard, deep-set eyes and a booming baritone voice.  Jan introduces himself and we head straight to the pilothouse. I explain that he is the captain, but if he did not mind I would like to drive with him standing over me. Jan agrees.  The next decision is how to turn Rabelo around.  It’s not going to be easy because there is a bridge less than one and a half boat lengths ahead of us.  I want to back out and gain some room, but Jan thinks we can make it by going ahead.  Jan is right.  We miss the bridge with 20ft to spare.  When you’re maneuvering a 127ft boat for the first time that is way too close.

I head down stream and within half a mile we are surrounded by ice.

Ice on the river Meuse in Belgium

I inch the throttle forward, and we continue to push ahead.  The sound of the ice breaking against Rabelo’s steel hull is sickening.  Each thud and crack resounding through my little ship as if being rung like a bell.  Eventually we make it to the first lock, but the ice is so thick we can’t tie up.  We are being held in its grip, centered in the lock as we descended 20ft.  I put Rabelo in gear and we exit the lock pushing an acre of solid white ahead of us.  A couple of hundred yards downstream and there is no ice to be found.  I comment to Jan, “I looks like clear sailing for us.”

For the next 12 kilometers life could not be better.  I was back on the water in my giant boat making tracks for her new home base in Dintelord, The Netherlands. There’s a big smile on my friend Scott’s face.  He is steering my baby, and doing an exemplary job.  At least he hasn’t hit anything yet. Not far ahead there is more ice.

Oh crap.

I take the helm from Scott and continue to forge ahead.  The ice is getting thicker by the minute.

The ice is getting thicker. Even the commercial badges are having a difficult time.

We’ve slowed from a quick jog to a slow walk.  I advance the throttle, but Rabelo continues to slow.  The ice is getting thicker and thicker and it’s getting dark.  The last thing we can afford is to get stuck in the middle of the river at night.  I give Rabelo more throttle, but we are just crawling.  We’ve got to make it ashore.

-Tom Miller


About the Author:

Tom Miller graduated from the University of Southern California with a Bachelor of Science in Geology. He is a consummate adventurer with over 1,000 dives as a recreational scuba diver, and an avid sailor who has traveled 65,000 miles throughout the Pacific including the Hawaiian Islands. Miller has also cruised the canals of Europe on his canal barge and given numerous lectures on cruising the canals of Europe, as well as sailing in the South Pacific. Piloting is also an interest of Miller's, and He has completed over 1,000 hours flying everything from small Cessnas to Lear jets.